BLS is the Cadillac for Europe

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The little BLS sedan, designed and built in Europe, goes on sale in April and is spear-heading the GM luxury subsidiary’s bid to win sales here against the incumbent German luxury car makers BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

Cadillac’s targets are modest to say the least. Malcolm Wade, director of sales for Cadillac and Corvette in Europe, told a launch event at this English Cotswolds town he expects 20,000 sales of BLS, CTS, STS, SRX, XLR, Escalades and Corvettes by 2010. That compares with Cadillac’s global sales of just over 250,000 in 2005. Cadillac sold about 2,100 vehicles in Europe last year compared with a target of 3,750.

The BLS is crucial because this newest and smallest Cadillac, designed and built in Europe, must account for about 70 percent of these sales, according to Wade. The BLS is built by Saab in Sweden, and contains many parts from the Saab 9-3 Saab 9-3 under the skin. Cadillac wouldn’t say just how much of the BLS was Saab Saab -related, or how much GM invested in the venture. The BLS has Cadillac’s first diesel engine since a few unsuccessful efforts in theU.S. about 25 years ago. The diesel is a must in Europe where about 50 percent of all new cars have oil-burning engines.

Wade is confident the new sales target can be met. Analysts like Peter Schmidt, managing director of Automotive Industry Data (AID) in Warwick, England, beg to differ. To put the sales target into context: BMW sold about 240,000 3-Series cars last year in Europe. The 3-Series is the BLS’s main competitor, along with the Mercedes C-class, and Audi A4. Lexus, a massive player in the U.S., only sold about 29,000 cars last year in Europe after being in the market for 17 years. Wade reckons that new sales can be captured from owners bored with buying luxury German cars, year in, year out. Schmidt thinks this is wishful thinking. " Image is all-important in Germany in particular. German car buyers, and buyers of German cars across Europe, are remarkably brand loyal. Jaguar Jaguar made the same mistake with its X-type (another 3-series competitor) and they did well at first in Germany, but as soon as quality problems started to emerge, word spread like a straw fire and sales collapsed. Cadillac just doesn’t have the right image” Schmidt said.

“Despite fantastic quality, even Lexus, with buyers knowing it had Toyota and its reputation for reliability behind it, has done almost nothing in Germany. Even with a good quality image Lexus Lexus can’t do much in Germany; if Cadillac could build a car with the quality of the Lexus LS430 it couldn’t get meaningful sales,” Schmidt said. Germany is Europe’s biggest car market, accounting for more than 20 per cent of annual sales of around 14 million cars.

The quality of the BLS has been questioned since it was first displayed at the Frankfurt Car Show in September 2005. But the quality of the first cars available to the press here, were top notch. The interiors were put together well. The standard of the materials was top class. All the cars were as luxury cars should be - quiet, sharp, fast, comfortable, and looked the part. The BLS will be available with a choice of 4 engines - a 1.9 litre, 150 bhp diesel, two 2.0 litre 4-cylinder petrol motors producing 175 bhp, and 210 bhp, and the range-topping 2.8 litre 255 bhp V6. All versions can be twinned with either automatic gearboxes or manual shifters. Prices start at around $37,300, for the diesel manual, including taxes.

Cadillac’s Wade said BLS prices across the range were 5 to 10 per cent below comparable BMW BMW 3-series prices. Buyers would be tempted by this Cadillac by the thought of “daring to be different”, and by the style and distinctive design of the vehicles, said Wade.

Asked about the 2010 sales, Wade said Cadillac wanted to steadily build up its sales in Europe. “It took Lexus 17 years to reach 20,000. At the start nobody knew if Lexus was a lawnmower or a pickup truck. Cadillac has a big advantage because our brand image is very well known,” said Wade.

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